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In Sheep’s Clothing director Paulo Morelli follows a tightly-knit, highly strung group of creative types to a beautiful rural location to show their attempts to stop everything unraveling. Morelli’s previous feature, City of Men, was a high-energy, favela-set sequel to the groundbreaking City of God (and Sheep is from the same production company), but the focus is entirely different here, acting as a gentle if calculated reminder to God-worshipping offshore viewers that not all film Brazilians are gun-toting scooter-riders.
Indeed these bourgeois young folk’s heads are just as much up their own behinds as wealthy middle class folks from anywhere, but the script works hard to make them sympathetic and just about succeeds. Success at home seems assured, while its attractiveness — what could be more appealing than a group of good-looking twenty-somethings with issues, in stunning surroundings? — could provoke interest from the 20-40 age range in offshore territories.
The entire film is set amongst the gorgeous, rolling mountain scenery where the parents of Silvana (Maria Ribeiro) have a home. Silvana has invited Felipe (Caio Blat), Rafa (Lee Taylor), vulgar, vivacious Brica (Martha Nowill), hapless Gus (Paulo Vilhena), Caze (Julio Andrade) and Lucia (Carolina Dieckmann) to the house, where they spend their time making out, smoking dope and quoting Kafka. Knowing no better, they write letters to themselves which they bury, to be dug up in ten years’ time and whose words will return to haunt them. The atmosphere is dreamy and sensuous; sunlight is filtered through tree branches, and the roving camera busily tracks and pans to suggest the fleetingness of it all. Felipe and Rafa are both writing novels; whilst driving drunk, they crash a car.
Ten years later, in 2002, all except Rafa return to the cabin. Felipe is now a successful writer, but traumatized by Rafa’s death, for which he blames himself. He and Lucia are now together, as are Caze and Brica, who wants a baby; Gus is still hapless. Rafa’s absence hangs heavy over a group of people who seem to be having problems putting their adolescence behind them, and it will bring to the surface tensions that threaten the stability of their various relationships.
On the one hand, this is just another self-regarding account of the issues of a group of young professionals. But the director and the well-judged script are canny enough to tread with caution, injecting just the right amount of self-puncturing wit and suspense to ensure that the interest is maintained across the various stories.
These are people for whom the horrors of Brazil’s late twentieth century past mean little, to the extent that Silvana even offers the controversial opinion that things were more interesting during the dictatorship, when there was something to fight against. The former president Lula is also ironically referenced: if the film wears its politics lightly, then it’s because Morelli sees this as a generation of Brazilians who couldn’t care less about politics, a fact which could sadly ensure the film’s interest for the generation of Brazilians the film has been made for.
Ensemble work from a high profile cast is excellent, and as a group they are all completely plausible, though Nowill as the reliably over the top Brica is the real standout. She’s also responsible for most of the humor. Atmospherics are key, with d.p. Gustavo Hadba exploiting the single location — the remarkable house and its remarkable surroundings — to good effect.
To keep up visual interest, an MTV active camera approach has been adopted, too heavily, sometimes to the extent of creating a distance between the characters’ problems and the viewer. But in general, it works, suggesting a lack of groundedness in their lives, while one wordless cat and mouse seduction scene later is particularly attractive in a pop video kind of way.
Beto Villares’ score, based on highly distorted guitar, is likewise overused. But songs, including work from Brazilian maestro Cayetano Veloso, are well-incorporated, particularly the nicely unlikely use of Bonnie Tyler‘s power ballad Total Eclipse of the Heart.
One completely unnecessary scene, which is almost the film’s undoing, really packs in the cliches by showing an on-screen flashback to the moments following the car crash, in which Felipe removes a sliver of glass from his body with a satisfyingly noisy slurp of blood, raised unreasonably high in the sound mix, before howling at the sky. The film’s boringly generic English title feels inappropriate to the subject matter at hand.
Production: 02 Filmes
Cast: Caio Blat, Carolina Dieckmann, Julio Andrade, Lee Taylor, Maria Ribeiro, Martha Nowill, Paulo Vilhena
Director, screenwriter: Paulo Morelli
Producers: Diane Maia, Paulo Morelli
Director of photography: Gustavo Hadba
Editor: Lucas Gonzaga
Music: Beto Villares
No rating, 101minutes
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